POV Mastery – Themes and Atmosphere

Following a discussion about what point of view (POV) a story should be written on one of my favourite Facebook groups, I realised how important that question is.

Crafting a captivating narrative involves more than just spinning a tale; it requires a deliberate choice of perspective through which the story unfolds. Point of view (POV) serves as the lens through which readers perceive a story’s events, characters, and emotions, making it a crucial element of narrative technique. 

One crucial aspect of storytelling is selecting the right point of view to tell your tale. Point of view dictates how readers perceive your story’s events, characters, and emotions, making it a fundamental element of narrative technique. 

So, let’s explore the significance of point of view and provide guidance on selecting the most suitable perspective for your story.

First, let’s understand what point of view means regarding the art of writing. Point of view refers to the narrative perspective from which a story is told. It determines who is telling the story and how much access readers have to the characters’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences. 

The Three Primary POV Commonly Used in Literature:

#1.  First Person: In first-person POV, the narrator is a character within the story, typically using “I” or “we” pronouns. This perspective offers a direct and intimate connection to the narrator’s thoughts and emotions but limits the reader’s knowledge of what the narrator knows.

Look at the “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins: “I woke with a start, the sheets tangled around my legs. Sunlight streamed weak and watery through the cracks in the wooden shutters. For a moment, I couldn’t remember where I was. Then the events of yesterday flooded back and I squeezed my eyes shut. Peeta. He was gone. Reaping day. The chariot ride. The training center. Peeta. He was alive.”  

Why it works: This excerpt throws the reader directly into Katniss Everdeen’s experience, allowing us to share her confusion, fear, and determination as she navigates the brutal world of the Hunger Games.

#2. Third Person Limited: Third-person limited POV follows the story through the eyes of a single character, using “he,” “she,” or “they” pronouns. While it maintains some distance from the characters, it still provides insights into their thoughts and emotions, albeit from a more restricted viewpoint.

Think of The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood: “Offred sat before the Commander, eyes downcast. Her heart hammered a frantic tattoo against her ribs, but her face, as she’d been instructed, remained expressionless. She wasn’t supposed to look at him. Not directly. Only sideways, out of the corner of her eye. Wives could look at him, but not her.”

Why it works: This excerpt restricts the reader’s perspective to Offred’s limited knowledge and understanding of her oppressive world, creating a sense of claustrophobia and highlighting her restricted agency

#3. Third-Person Omniscient: Third-person omniscient POV allows the narrator to have full knowledge of all characters’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This perspective offers a broader scope and can delve into multiple characters’ perspectives, providing a comprehensive view of the story’s world.

One of my  favourite examples is Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Why it works: The opening line of “Pride and Prejudice” utilises omniscient narration, establishing the novel’s social commentary and satirical tone. This narrative voice allows the author to provide insights into the character’s thoughts and motivations while offering broader social observations.

 

As we can see, the POV is crucial to telling our story. Here are 7 reasons WHY it is crucial:

#1 – Character Depth and Complexity.

POV plays a crucial role in shaping the depth and complexity of characters within a story. The narrative perspective chosen by the author influences how readers perceive and understand the inner workings of the characters, including their thoughts, emotions, motivations, and personal growth throughout the narrative. 

Examples:

  • First Person: In “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, Holden Caulfield’s first-person narration offers an intimate portrayal of his complex psyche and troubled adolescence.
  • Third Person Limited: In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, the third-person limited POV allows readers to delve into Harry Potter’s character, experiencing his joys, fears, and growth throughout his journey at Hogwarts.
  • Third-person omniscient in “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy utilises this POV to provide readers with a panoramic view of Russian society during the Napoleonic Wars, offering insights into the lives and experiences of various characters across different social classes and backgrounds.

#2 – Reader Empathy and Engagement.

POV plays a pivotal role in shaping the reader’s emotional connection to the characters and their journey throughout the story. The narrative perspective chosen by the author influences how readers empathize with the characters, become invested in their struggles, and experience their triumphs and setbacks

Examples:

  • First Person: In “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen’s first-person perspective immerses readers in her harrowing struggle for survival in the dystopian world of Panem.
  • Third-Person Limited: In “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, he utilises this POV to follow the journey of Amir, a young Afghan boy grappling with guilt, redemption, and the complexities of friendship and betrayal. Through Amir’s perspective, readers empathise with his internal struggles and moral dilemmas as he seeks forgiveness and redemption.
  • Third-Person Omniscient: In “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, this POV is used to narrate the epic journey of the Joad family as they migrate from Oklahoma to California during the Great Depression. Through the omniscient narrator, readers empathise with the Joads and other characters as they confront poverty, injustice, and the quest for a better life.

#3 – Narrative Voice and Tone.

POV significantly influences the narrative voice and tone of the story, shaping its style, atmosphere, and overall mood. The choice of POV determines who is telling the story and how it is being conveyed to the reader, affecting the narrative voice and the emotional resonance of the storytelling.

Examples:

  • First Person: In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Nick Carraway’s first-person narration infuses the story with a reflective and nostalgic tone, capturing the glamour and disillusionment of the Jazz Age.
  • Third-Person Limited: In “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd: this POV is used to follow Lily Owens’ coming-of-age journey, imbuing the narrative with a poignant and introspective tone. Through the third-person limited POV, readers experience the story through Lily’s eyes, allowing for a nuanced exploration of themes such as identity, family, and racial prejudice.
  • Third Person Omniscient: In Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” the omniscient narrator provides a sweeping and authoritative tone, offering profound insights into the characters’ inner lives and societal dynamics in 19th-century Russia.

#4 – Revealing Information and Building Suspense.

POV plays a crucial role in controlling how and when information is revealed to readers, influencing the pacing, tension, and overall suspense of the narrative. The narrative perspective chosen by the author determines the degree of access readers have to characters’ thoughts, motivations, and secrets, shaping the reader’s experience of unravelling the story’s mysteries and surprises.

Examples:

  • First Person: “The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe: Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story is narrated in first-person POV by an unnamed narrator who confesses to murdering an old man. Readers are drawn into the suspenseful tension through the narrator’s unreliable and increasingly erratic narration as they question the narrator’s sanity and moral compass.
  • Third Person Limited:The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson is written in the third-person limited POV to alternate between Mikael Blomkvist’s and Lisbeth Salander’s perspectives, creating a gripping and suspenseful narrative. Through their alternating POVs, readers are drawn into the complex investigation of a decades-old mystery and the dark secrets lurking beneath the surface of Swedish society.
  • Third Person Omniscient: In “A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin, the vast scope of the narrative necessitates an omniscient POV. By jumping between characters across different locations and storylines, the author keeps readers engaged and guessing about the fate of various characters and the potential consequences of their actions. The reader possesses knowledge that individual characters might not, creating a sense of anticipation and dread as the story unfolds.

#5. Exploring Multiple Perspectives.

POV allows for exploring diverse perspectives and experiences within the narrative, enriching the storytelling by offering insights into different characters’ thoughts, emotions, and motivations. The choice of POV determines how extensively readers engage with various characters and their unique viewpoints, contributing to a richer and more nuanced understanding of the story’s themes and conflicts.

Examples:

  • First Person: “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker is written in a first-person POV to narrate the story of Celie, an African-American woman navigating racism, sexism, and abuse in the early 20th century. Through Celie’s intimate and introspective voice, readers experience her journey of self-discovery and empowerment and the interconnected lives of other characters in her community.
  •  Third-Person Limited: In the book The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak: third-person limited is used to follow the perspective of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living in Nazi Germany during World War II. Through Liesel’s eyes, readers experience the impact of war and totalitarianism on ordinary lives and the power of literature and human resilience in the face of adversity.
  • Third Person Omniscient: In Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway,” the omniscient narrator delves into various characters’ inner thoughts and emotions, providing multiple perspectives on a single day in post-World War I London.

#6. Creating Distance or Intimacy.

POV plays a crucial role in establishing the level of distance or intimacy between readers and the characters, influencing the reader’s emotional connection to the story and its characters. The narrative perspective chosen by the author determines how closely readers engage with the characters’ thoughts, emotions, and experiences, shaping their empathy and investment in the narrative.

Examples:

  • First Person: In the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, the first-person narration offers an intimate glimpse into the world of Christopher Boone, a teenager with autism spectrum disorder. Through Christopher’s unique perspective, readers develop a deep empathy for his struggles and triumphs as he navigates the complexities of human emotions and social interactions.
  • Third Person Limited: In Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the third-person limited POV of Offred offers a chilling and emotionally resonant portrayal of a dystopian society where women are oppressed and stripped of their autonomy.
  • Third-Person Omniscient: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen offers readers insights into the thoughts and emotions of characters such as Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and their acquaintances. Through the omniscient narrator, readers develop a deep empathy for the characters’ romantic aspirations and social struggles while maintaining a sense of narrative distance.

#7. Enhancing Theme and Atmosphere.

POV is a powerful tool that not only shapes the narrative structure but also plays a significant role in enhancing the theme and atmosphere of a story. The choice of POV influences how readers perceive the world of the story, the characters’ experiences, and the overarching themes explored by the author. 

Examples:

  • First Person: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald provides readers with a subjective exploration of themes such as the American Dream, wealth, and morality. Through Nick’s perspective, readers experience the glittering decadence of the Jazz Age and the disillusionment lurking beneath the surface.
  • Third Person Limited: “1984” by George Orwell utilises third-person limited POV to delve into themes of totalitarianism, surveillance, and individual freedom through the experiences of Winston Smith. Through Winston’s perspective, readers experience the oppressive atmosphere of the dystopian society depicted in the novel.
  • Third Person Omniscient: In Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the omniscient narrator weaves a tapestry of magical realism and familial saga, capturing the cyclical nature of history and the human condition in the fictional town of Macondo.

In Conclusion – mastering the art of point of view (POV) is paramount for crafting narratives that captivate and immerse readers. While there’s undoubtedly much more to explore about POV across different genres and how to blend them skillfully, the key lies in understanding its profound impact on storytelling. 

By carefully considering the seven pivotal reasons we’ve discussed and drawing insights from literary examples, writers can unlock the transformative power of POV to elevate their narratives and forge profound connections with readers. 

So, whether you’re delving into the intimate depths of first-person narration or navigating the vast landscapes of third-person omniscient perspective, remember that POV isn’t just a narrative choice; it’s the compass guiding your readers on a journey of discovery and emotion.

Now it’s YOUR turn – What is YOUR favourite POV and give us some examples from books that you have enjoyed them in.

Would love to get your input in the comment box below.

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